What are PFAS?
Per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances, known as PFAS, are a group of more than 3000 man-made chemicals that have been manufactured for a variety of consumer and industrial uses in the United States since the 1940s. PFAS provide grease and water-resistance properties to carpets, cookware, clothing, food packaging, cosmetics, and other common consumer products. PFAS also have many industrial applications and are used to make certain types of firefighting foams.
Some common types of PFAS include:
- Perfluorooctanoic acid (PFOA)
- Perfluorooctanesulfonic acid (PFOS)
- Perfluorobutane sulfonic acid (PFBS)
- Hexafluoropropylene oxide dimer acid (“GenX chemicals”)
Why are we concerned about PFAS?
- PFAS are widely used, long lasting or “forever” chemical, components of which break down very slowly over time.
- PFAS contamination can migrate to groundwater and surface water, potentially impacting drinking water sources.
- Because of their widespread use and persistence in the environment, many PFAS are found in the blood of people and animals all over the world and are present at variable levels in a variety of food products and in the environment.
- Unsafe storage, improper disposal, and inadequate containment has resulted in contamination of soil, water, and air in some locations.
- Scientific studies have shown that exposure to some PFAS in the environment may be linked to harmful health effects in humans and animals.
For more information on the possible health effects of PFAS and recommendations to protect Human Health, visit the Tennessee Department of Health’s PFAS Website.
How did PFAS end up in our environment?
PFAS can be found in air, soil, and/or water. The most significant sources of known PFAS contamination are facilities that manufacture these chemicals and military bases that conduct extensive firefighting training activities. In certain locations, a lack of adequate waste storage and disposal practices at chemical manufacturing facilities has resulted in further contamination of groundwater and surface water.
PFAS are found in many consumer products due to water- and grease- resistant properties. Examples of its use in products include:
Certain PFAS chemicals are no longer manufactured in the United States as a result of their persistence in the environment. However, many of these products are still produced internationally and can be imported into the United States in consumer goods such as carpet, leather and apparel, textiles, paper and packaging, coatings, rubber and plastics.
How are people exposed to PFAS?
Most people are exposed to PFAS primarily through drinking beverages or eating food made with contaminated water or exposure to PFAS in dust or consumer products. Exposure impacts from skin contact and inhalation of water droplets are expected to be minor.
How are PFAS regulated?
Currently, there are no state or federal regulatory drinking water standards for PFAS.
The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) is developing a proposed National Primary Drinking Water Regulation for publication by the end of 2022 for two PFAS, perfluorooctanoic acid (PFOA) and perfluorooctanesulfonic acid (PFOS), and anticipates finalizing the rule by the end of 2023.
For more information, see “How are Other Agencies Responding to PFAS.”
How is TDEC responding to PFAS?
TDEC is taking several steps to address PFAS in Tennessee.
- TDEC is conducting a statewide sampling initiative to test all public drinking water sources for 29 PFAS compounds. TDEC Division of Water Resources (DWR) staff located in TDEC’s eight environmental field offices across the state are taking samples for this initial assessment, which will help TDEC understand the presence and concentration of PFAS compounds in source waters throughout the state. In addition to understanding potential presence of PFAS in Tennessee, the results of this effort will help both TDEC and the regulated community understand how to reduce human exposure to PFAS via drinking water. TDEC will publicly publish assessment results as they become available. At the conclusion of the assessment, TDEC will publish a report summarizing data and results on this page.
- TDEC formed an interdisciplinary working group to identify potential activities likely to contribute to PFAS contamination and determine the agency’s best course of action for protecting Tennesseans from adverse health effects resulting from PFAS contamination. The working group consists of representatives from state and federal government, non-profits, private industry, and academia.
How are other agencies responding to PFAS?
Proposed Rulemaking to Designate PFOA and PFOS as Hazardous Substances under CERCLA
EPA is proposing to designate PFOA and PFOS as hazardous substances under the Comprehensive Environmental Response, Compensation, and Liability Act (CERCLA), also known as Superfund, with a final designation expected in 2023.
Drinking Water Health Advisories for Four PFAS
In June 2022, EPA issued new and updated non-regulatory drinking water health advisories for four PFAS chemicals based on the agency’s assessment of the latest peer-reviewed science and health data. EPA released interim updated drinking water lifetime health advisories for PFOA and PFOS that replace those issued by EPA in 2016. At the same time, EPA also issued final health advisories for two other PFAS, perfluorobutane sulfonic acid and its potassium salt (PFBS), and for hexafluoropropylene oxide (HFPO) dimer acid and its ammonium salt (“GenX chemicals"). In chemical and product manufacturing, GenX chemicals are considered a replacement for PFOA, and PFBS is considered a replacement for PFOS. These new and updated advisory levels, based on new data considering lifetime exposure, indicate that some negative health effects may occur by consuming water with concentrations of PFOA or PFOS near zero. To provide Americans, including the most sensitive populations, with a margin of protection from a lifetime of exposure to PFAS from drinking water, EPA has established the following health advisory levels for four PFAS chemicals:
- PFOA: 0.004 ppt
- PFOS: 0.02 ppt
- PFBS: 2,000 ppt
- GenX: 10 ppt
For more information the EPA health advisory levels for PFAS, please see the EPA Questions and Answers: Drinking Water Health Advisories for PFOA, PFOS, GenX Chemicals and PFBS webpage.
Regional Screening Levels and Removal Management Levels for PFAS at Superfund Sites
In May 2022, EPA announced the addition of five PFAS chemicals, for a total of six PFAS chemicals, to the list of Regional Screening Levels (RSL) and Regional Removal Management Levels (RML) for chemical contaminants at Superfund sites. RSLs are used to identify contaminated media (i.e., air, tap water, and soil) at a Superfund site that may need further investigation. In general, if a contaminant concentration is below the screening level no further action or investigation is needed. If the concentration is above the screening level, further investigation is generally needed to determine if some action is required. RMLs are used to support EPA’s decisions to undertake a removal action under CERCLA, such as providing alternative drinking water, or remediation of contaminated media, if necessary. Screening and removal management levels are not cleanup standards. They are risk-based values that help EPA determine if further investigation or actions are needed to protect public health, such as sampling, assessing risks, and taking further action, which could include providing alternative drinking water. These mechanisms allow site teams to make better site decisions that will protect nearby communities. The five PFAS additions include: GenX, PFOS, PFOA, perfluorononanoic acid (PFNA), and perfluorohexanesulfonic acid (PFHxS). For more information, visit EPA’s Regional Screening Levels for Chemical Contaminants at Superfund Sites and Regional Removal Management Levels for Chemicals webpages.
EPA’s PFAS Strategic Roadmap
In October 2021, EPA released the “PFAS Strategic Roadmap: EPA's Commitments to Action 2021-2024” which sets timelines by which EPA plans to take specific actions to address PFAS and to protect public health. The Strategic Roadmap describes EPA’s approach to addressing PFAS at the national level and describes the key actions EPA has underway and anticipates taking in the future to address PFAS.
EPA’s PFAS Action Plan
In February 2019, EPA released the PFAS Action Plan which outlines steps the agency is taking to address PFAS and to protect public health. The Action Plan describes the EPA’s approach to identifying and understanding PFAS, approaches to addressing current PFAS contamination, preventing future contamination, and effectively communicating with the public about PFAS. The Action Plan describes the broad actions the EPA has underway to address challenges with PFAS in the environment and identifies more short-term and long-term actions that are currently being implemented to understand and address PFAS.
PFAS Cleanup Assessments at Department of Defense Facilities
The Department of Defense (DOD) is currently conducting FPAS cleanup assessments at nearly 700 DOD installations and National Guard locations where PFAS was used or may have been released. These assessments include evaluation of historic records of PFAS use at installations, site inspections, and sampling of drinking water, groundwater or soil to determine the scope of PFAS contamination and need for mitigation and/or remediation action. DOD expects to complete all initial assessments by the end of 2023.
Research and Development Program for PFAS Detection, Treatment and Destruction
DOD manages the largest research and development program in the nation devoted to PFAS detection, treatment, and destruction—with over $150 million in investments and another $70 million devoted to developing PFAS-free replacement firefighting foam. DOD is actively partnering with academic research institutions across the nation to develop the science to help manage PFAS. For more information please visit DOD's PFAS website.
Department of Energy PFAS Management Policy
In September 2021, the Department of Energy (DOE) Deputy Secretary issued a policy memorandum that addresses PFAS management for DOE operations. The memorandum requires DOE to discontinue use of Aqueous Film-Forming Foam (AFFF) except for use in actual fire emergencies; to have fire protection personnel wear PFAS-protective personal protective equipment; to suspend disposal of waste containing PFAS; and to report PFAS-containing AFFF releases or spills to DOE’s Occurrence Reporting and Processing System which supports mission safety and field oversight. The policy also is intended to leverage the expertise of the National Laboratories to advance knowledge about PFAS contamination, its fate and transport in the environment, and innovative research and technological approaches to address it.
PFAS Strategic Roadmap
On August 18, 2022, DOE released the PFAS Strategic Roadmap: DOE’s Commitments to Action 2022-2025, which outlines goals, objectives and specific actions the Department of Energy is taking to address risk from PFAS. DOE is also preparing an initial assessment report that will summarize the results of a preliminary evaluation of known historic or current PFAS uses, PFAS occurrence in the environment, and regulatory and stakeholder interactions at DOE program sites.
PFAS Exposure Assessments
The Centers for Disease Prevention and Control (CDC) and Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry (ATSDR) conducted exposure assessments in communities known to have had PFAS levels in their drinking water in excess of the 2016 EPA health advisory levels. ATSDR conducted 10 PFAS exposure assessments, which looked at exposures in more than 2,300 individuals from over 1,400 households The primary goal of these exposure assessments was to provide information to communities about levels of PFAS in their bodies. For more information on the results of these assessments please visit the CDC's PFAS website.
PFAS Scientific Research
The National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences (NIEHS) and the National Toxicology Program are supporting research to better understand many aspects of PFAS, including possible health effects, sources of exposure, and methods for removing the substances from the environment. NIEHS offers a publicly available, searchable database of published scientific papers about PFAS.
The Interagency Policy Committee on PFAS
Led by the White House Council on Environmental Quality (CEQ), the Interagency Policy Committee on PFAS is designed to facilitate the high-level coordination of PFAS response activities across federal government agencies. The committee will work to coordinate and help develop new policy strategies to support research, remediation, and removal of PFAS in communities across the country.
How can I learn more about PFAS?
Environmental Protection Agency
- PFAS Analytic Tools
- Per- and Polyfluoroalkyl Substances (PFAS)
- Questions and Answers: Drinking Water Health Advisories for PFOA, PFOS, GenX Chemicals and PFBS
- Research on Per- and Polyfluoroalkyl Substances (PFAS)
Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry
The White House
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention
U.S. Food and Drug Administration
Tennessee Department of Health
- Technical Resources for Addressing Environmental Resources of Per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances (Interstate Technology Regulatory Council)
- Technologies for Reducing PFAS in Drinking Water (EPA)
- Factsheet: PFOA & PFOS Drinking Water Health Advisories (EPA)
- American Water Works Association (AWWA) Briefing on PFAS